If you want to get a group of parents squirming uncomfortably, apologizing for their choices, or climbing to the top of Mount Pious and waving their flags for all to see, bring up screen time for kids.
I have had dozens upon dozens of conversations with other parents about TVs/iPads/iPhones that include sentences like, “Well, I mean, I only let him watch for half an hour on the weekends.That’s not bad, right?” Or, “I let them watch for three hours straight the other day. I just needed a break. I know, it’s terrible.”
Let me give you the real shit right here: my kids get a ton of screen time. A TON. They’re on the iPad before school. They’re on the iPad after school. And sometimes they follow that up with video games after dinner. They have spent entire days in front of one screen or another. ENTIRE. DAYS.
Now, do I beat myself up about that? Yes. A little bit. It’s hard not to in the current parenting culture, where we are expected to martyr ourselves in both childbirth and parenting in order to prove our worth. We seem to think that unless we are struggling, we are not giving our children our best. It’s hard not to let that wiggle its way in to your head.
However, I am much more forgiving of myself than most people I know, and it breaks my heart when I hear other parents (most of the time, other moms) give themselves a hard time over letting their kids watch a few hours of TV.
No, screens should not be substitutes for parenting; ideally, your kid isn’t in front of a screen every waking minute of every day. As with most things in life and in parenting, it’s about balance. Sometimes you eat broccoli, and sometimes you eat Oreo ice cream sandwiches. Sometimes you do homework, sometimes you go out to play. Sometimes you watch TV, sometimes you…I don’t know…make puppets out of recycling and put on a show at the community p-patch. Or something.
Some days my kids gets tons of screen time, other days they get none at all. And it all seems to work out for us. It’d be one thing if I asked my kids what five plus five was, and they said “Pokemon.” But they don’t. So it’s cool. Besides, there are tons of great educational programs and websites out there. There is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water; I mean, sometimes the baby poops in the tub, but other times it teaches your kid about planets and what the word “camouflage” means.
So when my kids and I have conversations like the following, I don’t worry.
KIDS: “Mom, what is evolution?”
ME: “Well, evolution is how living things change and adapt over time.”
KIDS: “So it’s like an upgrade in a video game?”
ME: “You know what? Yes. It is exactly like that.”